by Paul S. Kemp
I could title this review “how to slash a rating in half in the last 20 pages and make a reader go from ‘I see why people like Kemp’ to profanity-laced ‘Kemp is garbage and I will never read this again or anything else he ever wrote.'” Because up until page 239, this was solidly at 4 stars, better than Revan, and certainly delivering on everything anyone could want from a TOR novel.
I remember in Jude Watson’s Defenders of the Dead how I threw the book across the room when a main character did something totally out of character in the last ten pages. I wasn’t angry when I read this one, though. Just deflated.
Let’s start with the plot description and the other decent stuff first, though.
Deceived is based on a video game, even more directly on a trailer for the videogame, so it was really exciting to get some depth behind the trailer, to put names with the faces and know who those characters were, what was going on, how it relates to the game I play.
It was also amusing to pick out the obvious archetypes from the game imported into the book: Malgus the Warrior with his Vette-companion Eleena, the Knight Aryn with companion T7, the Smuggler Zeeveld — even more fun to have the book identify Aryn and Z as former troopers, as my knight Vish’wecor’annik is a former trooper herself and it confirms my lore. The Agent (Sniper) Vrath was easily my favorite character, but I’ll return to that.
The book has some standard flaws. I found the character development limited, though nowhere near as shallow as in Revan; psychology and memory were provided for the characters, but everything in the book was told and not shown, making for a rather flat experience. There were too many paragraph breaks to ever really settle into a single string of action. It’s interesting, I notice people complaining all the time about how many cuts are made in action movies, and how praiseworthy single-shot scenes are, but nobody ever takes me seriously when I observe that paragraph breaks in novels shatter the flow of action. But it’s a great way to pad pages when you have no idea what to do.
Still, as I said, up until page 239, I was willing to round up my 3.5 rating to 4 stars for Goodreads. I wished there was more depth of character and less telling me how characters feel rather than showing me — but that tell-don’t-show goes back to Lucas himself and therefore is a core thing in Star Wars. The action centers on Malgus, betrayed in his attempt to flatten the Republic, and TOR players will see the seeds of his rebellion and New Empire planted here. Aryn is a Jedi Knight who breaks through the Imperial blockade on Coruscant to hunt Malgus and avenge her master’s death. She uses her old comrade-in-arms Z-man to do so, as he’s been hired by the Exchange to get a load of spice through that blockade.
Star Wars’ classic philosophical themes try to grow here as the marine-turned-smuggler wrestles with his conscience and the Jedi Knight comes to terms with her passion and anger. For whatever reason, though, Kemp can’t follow through with them and the book feels like a cup of tea that smells amazing but wasn’t allowed to steep and therefore tastes like nothing more than hot water. As always, books that disappoint me earn my sharpest criticism, because I was expecting something more and the end left me deflated and angry that I’d been drawn in.
The following paragraph contains explicit spoilers, as I intend to outburst fully on what infuriated me about this book, which requires a pretty detailed summary of those last 20 pages. If you don’t want to know, then consider this the end of the review: a decent book that started well-told but fizzled out like a wet sparkler.
It’s one of my beliefs that death in a book has to be meaningful. Unfortunately, I never wrote the post I meant to about “beautiful book-death,” what it takes for death in a novel to be acceptable, even praiseworthy, cathartic, reassuring even in pain. I can tell you, though, that this book failed, and that the alternative to “beautiful book-death” is “obscene, offensive book-killing,” and that in under 20 pages, Kemp went from 4-stars to “I wish you hadn’t done that” to “massive overkill and eff you too, author guy who apparently hates readers.”
First, as I said earlier, the sniper Vrath was easily my favorite character. I like snipers. I play snipers. I’m sure that has more than a little to do with how relatable I found him. I was also amused that his surname was Xizor, an obvious nod. I understood he was Z’s foil as Malgus was Aryn’s, and admired the clever way he went about doing his job to keep the Exchange’s spice from getting to Coruscant. Two former soldiers from opposite sides, working toward opposite goals, with more than they suspect in common — Vrath was demonstrably honorable, probably wrestling with the same things Z was. I was excited and curious when Vrath ended up Z’s prisoner — but with all the buildup, Z just throws him out an airlock. This was followed two pages later by Malgus stabbing his lover Eleena through the heart because his love for her is a liability.
One blindside could have been acceptable, but two deaths with no buildup, no potential for catharsis, and no emotional payoff was too much. I find it disgusting when death is used for a cheap thrill, so my final word on this book is disgust.